Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
24 Jun 2011

Lehnhoff takes on Fanciulla for Netherlands Opera

It can be fascinating, although not necessarily pleasant, to see oneself through the eyes of others.

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

Minnie: Eva-Maria Westbroek; Jack Rance: Lucio Gallo; Dick Johnson: Zoran Todorovich; Nick: Roman Sadnik; Ashby: Diogenes Randes; Sonora: Stephen Gadd; Billy Jackrabbit: Tijl Faveyts; Wowkle: Ellen Rabiner; Jake Wallace: André Morsch; José Castro: Roger Smeets. Netherlands Opera Chorus. Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Carlo Rizzi, conductor. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director. Recorded live at The Amsterdam Music Theater, November and December 2009.

Opus Arte OABD7075D [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

A citizen of the U.S.A. may well discover with some alarm that we Americans are seen as crass capitalists with sentimental streaks and a penchant for firearms and random violence, all carried along with a confidence alternately charming and cloying. Traditional productions of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West reflect this a bit, as inherent in the material. Minnie, the virginal, Bible-teaching owner of a saloon during the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, fights off the lusty Sheriff Rance while falling hopelessly for highwayman-in-disguise Dick Johnson. Pistol in hand, she saves Johnson (already grievously wounded by Rance and his men) from a lynching, and they ride off into the sunset at opera’s end, singing “Addio, California.” The creaky plot centers on Johnson and his gang’s plan to steal the money and gold from the safe Minnie maintains for the prospectors at her saloon, but it is Minnie herself who is the real treasure.

Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff loves the sheer absurdity of it all, but the triumph of his wild production for the Netherlands Opera is how much of Puccini’s original intent shines through, because it’s all there in the score — the redemptive power of love, and the drama of broken people trying to remake themselves into something resembling a whole person.

One could wish Lehnhoff didn’t begin the opera with projections of 20th century stock traders yelling and waving their arms on an exchange floor, and then end the opera with projections of dollar bills on the scrim, raining down on Minnie and Johnson as they sing their goodbyes to the Golden State. In between, however, despite some stylized updating (Minnie’s “cabin” is a motor caravan with a Barbie-doll pink interior), Lehnhoff stays true, for your reviewer, to the spirit of the opera. The miners all adore Minnie as always, Wowkle and Billy Jackrabbit are as politically incorrect as ever, and the exquisitely scored entrances and dramatic climaxes of Puccini’s music are all reflected in the stage action. No, Minnie doesn’t ride in on a horse in act three, and Johnson is on top of a wrecked auto in a salvage yard as the noose is placed around his neck, but in theatrical context, it all works.

And the chief reason this works is Lehnhoff’s excellent cast, starting with his star, Eva-Maria Westbroek. With a passing resemblance to Carol Neblett, not only is Westbroek physically suited for the role, but she has the sizeable instrument the role requires. High note aficionados may rank Westbroek’s as somewhat under the top range on a scale of 1-10 — they don’t “bloom” — but she has the notes. And when Minnie gets to express her softer side, Westbroek can manage that singing very well too. Speaking of Neblett, in a charming if lightweight bonus feature, Westbroek speaks of her love for the justly famous Covent Garden video of Fanciulla with Domingo and Neblett, in a staging that Westbroek herself joyfully accepted the opportunity to perform in.

Westbroek’s primary male colleagues aren’t quite matches for Domingo and the Rance of that Covent Garden video, Silvano Carroli, though both Zoran Todorovich as Johnson and Lucio Gallo as Rance fit their roles well. Todorovich has a big, unsubtle technique, which works for some of the role but crucially lets him down for the biggest moment, the act three aria “Ch’ella mi creda.” It can be said that he looks pretty darn good (for a tenor) in leather jeans. Gallo’s baritone is far from being the most beautiful as well, and his act one aria is not much more than adequate. He relishes being the villain of the piece, however, and his commitment adds to the staging’s success. In the smaller roles, Roman Sadnik is very amusing as a campy Nick the bartender, and André Morsch sings Jake Wallace’s plaint prettily enough.

The reliable Carlo Rizzi leads the Netherlands forces with professional skill. In Blu-Ray the many details of designer Raimund Bauer’s sets come through with crystal clarity. In its own way — a way which will, undoubtedly, not work for more traditional viewers — the entire staging has its own beauty. This shouldn’t be the only Fanciulla lovers of this magnificent opera possess, but anyone open to Lehnhoff’s point of view will find it a smashing entertainment.

Chris Mullins


 

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):